Cassie stood in the devastation of the ransacked kitchen. Others had been here before her—young people who were just as hungry, just as desperate. Even the spice rack was empty, a bad sign, since it meant someone was hungry enough to consider cloves and dill weed food.
On the other side of the room, her friend Leila admired a waffle iron. “I’d kill for a waffle,” she said, rubbing away the dust and examining her warped reflection in the aluminum.
“I say we try Quail Heights. There’s nothing else in this neighborhood.”
“There’s gangs on the other side of Callaway Road.”
“There’s gangs here, too.”
“But our gangs know us.” Leila examined her rings, avoiding Cassie’s eyes. “Just because we’re safe here doesn’t mean we wouldn’t need to join a group somewhere else. It might be worse in other parts of town.”
Cassie knew her friend was right. They had tried joining a group before, but the violence of the other young people scared them. They had been without food for two days now, though, and it had been over a week since they last ate anything that quelled their hunger for long. “I’m sure they’re just ordinary kids like us,” Cassie said, pretending an optimism she didn’t feel. “Some of our friends from school are probably still there.”
Leila turned away. “I’m going to check the closets. Maybe I’ll find something good to wear.”
While her friend headed toward the back of the house, Cassie went into the garage. In some houses she had gotten lucky, stumbling upon a cache of MREs or freeze-dried camp food. Such items were usually overlooked by other foragers, most of whom hadn’t had the advantage of growing up with an outdoorsy father and an ex-Mormon mother who believed in storing food for emergencies. Cassie sometimes wondered if her parents would’ve survived had they not been among the first to catch the disease. They owned a wilderness retreat and had the skills and supplies to survive, had they been able to get there before the roadblocks went up and the virus worked its way into their genes.
Grief and anger were luxuries Cassie couldn’t afford if she was to make good on her promise that she would survive this thing. Now that the power plants, pumping stations, and transportation systems had failed, foraging for food and medicine was all that mattered. She searched the dusty garage, where she found lawn chairs and a croquet set, a broken exercise bike, and a freezer she didn’t dare open since anything in it would have rotted. Nothing suggested the former inhabitants knew anything more about the outdoors than what could be discovered in their own back yard. There was no hoarded camp food here.
The door opened. In a panic, Cassie reached for the canister of bear repellent at her hip, but it was only Leila.
“Size fourteen. The woman who lived here was a pig.”
It occurred to Cassie to point out that Leila’s mother had worn a size fourteen and Leila’s nipped-in waist and curves were the result of their recent privations and not to any lack of pre-pandemic pizza. Instead she took in her friend’s freshly-painted lips and red silk scarf. “Who are you dressing up for? The rats?”
Leila shook her head and a pair of long earrings jingled. “Maybe in Quail Heights I’ll find me a boyfriend who has a stash of decent food.”
“And maybe there’s an Easter Bunny,” Cassie said. “We’ll wake up and this will have all been a nightmare.”
Labels: Chapter One